Tuesday 30 June 2015

Newstead Abbey

We caught the tram to the end of the line today, and then walked up to Newstead Abbey. The sun beat down gloriously on our hats as we took a long route along footpaths and through dappled woods.
We were flagging a bit by the time we arrived but it was worth the effort as the whole place was beautiful.
I sure that it has changed over time, but for three hundred years it was the home of Lord Byron and his family.  On a day like today you could imagine him wandering around the lake composing poetry, with his faithful dog by his side.
His dog, called Boatswain is buried in the grounds, but I only found that out when my mum told me about it tonight.
Tonight was also good as we went to watch my brother in law, Mark, compete in a five kilometres race around Wollaton Park - another amazing Notts landmark.
And finally, in a very disturbing oversight, I failed to mention the heroic efforts of Mark and Elaine last Sunday morning when they successfully completed their second triathlon in the last month.

Monday 29 June 2015

Busy in Nottingham

We have been back in Nottingham for about a week now, and every night we have been out seeing friends, eating, drinking and generally being sociable.
Last night we went to see Paloma Faith on stage in Sherwood Forest.
The day started off wet and unpromising, but it improved as the evening approached.  By the time we were sitting on our picnic blanket with a glass of wine in hand, the sun was most definitely out and it was all very pleasant.
Paloma was great and we really enjoyed the show.
Afterwards we walked back through the forest on a single lane road to our campsite. Fortunately the moon was bright so it wasn't too dark, and we were almost back home when a huge tour bus passed us.
It was Paloma and her band making a quick getaway rather than joining the crowds queuing to get out of the main entrance.
We had a peaceful nights sleep in a farmers field in a clearing in the forest, and when we got up this morning the two donkeys, ducks and geese who lived there permanently were wandering all around us. Aaaaaahh!  how sweet.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Walking the walls at York

I didn't write a blog yesterday as we got involved with some campervan DIY, and it also rained for most of the day.
However, we did drive from Southport to York and spent last night at our new campsite. It is very well situated, less than ten minutes walk to York and right next to the river.
I noticed with interest that the shower block was raised up on brick pillars and had half a dozen steps up to the facilities.
We understood why when we saw a stone with plaques on it to show the height of recent floods. In 2012 the water would have been about six feet deep all around the campsite, but luckily for us today, the river is well within it's banks.
I read the reviews of York on TripAdvisor, and one of the favourite things to do was a two mile walk around the ancient city walls. They are not a complete loop as there are a few gaps in places.
Some of the comments on TripAdvisor said that they got lost part way round, but I just thought 'thickos' and thought nothing more of it.
Our walk started well - the wall was as expected with ramparts and was along the ridge of a steep bank. There was also little maps and information boards that pointed out Roman remains, etc.
We got at least half way round and enjoyed views of York Minster from on high.  We then had to go down some steps to road level so we went to see the Minster. We retraced our steps, but couldn't find the rest of the wall!
We wandered around for quite a while, lost patience with the whole thing so set off home, only to find the wall again on the other side of the river right near our campsite.
A little bit annoying really.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Another place - Anthony Gormley

We cycled down the coast from Southport to Crosby to see the 100 statues on the beach. They stretch out over three kilometres, some higher up on the sand, and others deeper in the sea.
I made friends with one that was about halfway down the beach so he spends a lot of time in cold water. On close inspection he is loosing his looks under a growth of barnacles and green seaweed.
The statues are all identical and were made using a cast of the body of their creator - Anthony Gormley. They have lived on the beach for about ten years now and they look very peaceful as they stare out to sea, just waiting.
For what?  Tide and time.

Friday 19 June 2015


I know that a lot of it is down to the weather, but Southport is not looking glamorous today.
Our campsite is very close to the coast, the tide goes out a long way, and the pier had been left high and dry. We walked to the end of it and there is a metal seat, an ice cream shop that was closed and an amusement arcade.
The arcade was very unusual as the machines only accepted old pennies - the big brown ones when there was 240 of them to a pound.
We changed some modern money into old pennies and I managed to win a few more than I started with, was really pleased with myself for a few minutes, then I managed to lose them all again.   
It was all very quaint and old fashioned, but it kept us quiet and warm for a while.
We then headed into the town and found another arcade, this one with a Hall of Mirrors. Hopefully this explains the unusually shaped feet in my selfie.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Eyam - 350 years after the plague

We are back in England now and travelling in the campervan through the Derbyshire Peak District to see some friends who live near Manchester.
We stopped off at the village of Eyam, as I had heard a little bit about it. However, it was far more interesting than I expected, so briefly, here goes:-
Exactly 350 years ago London was in the grip of the bubonic plague and a horse and trap carrying clothing was sent to Eyam.
It turned out that it was infested with fleas carrying the plague and George Viccars, the unfortunate person who opened the parcel was the first one to die.
It spread incredibly rapidly through the village, killing off whole families. The local vicar persuaded the villagers to stay cut off from the world in order to stop the plague spreading throughout the county, and over the next 14 months 260 out of a population of 700 died.
They had no idea how the disease was spreading and it must have been terrifying waiting to see who would fall ill next.
It was very heroic of the village to halt the spread of the plague, and 350 years later the community are incredibly proud of their ancestors.
We walked through the village and saw the cottages where the people lived, looked around the museum and saw the plaques that explained what happened to each household.
Very interesting place, friendly people and tasty cakes at the cafe.

Monday 15 June 2015

Yas Island beach

We caught the hotel shuttle bus to the beach this morning and settled down on the sunbeds. It was extremely hot, but a nice breeze was blowing.
The sea was bathwater temperature for the first few steps, but once above knee level it got more refreshing. We swam lazily about for a while and even saw a fish or two.
The beach was made of soft white sand, although it was man made and just behind a nearby fence a new building was being built.
We also weren't on the coast, but on man made estuary a couple of miles inland, however, that is just nit picking and we had a really nice time.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I tried out a new look today as we visited the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. My main comment was 'wow it's hot', but Darren said he was roasting as well in his outfit. It also has to be said that it really was a scorcher of a day, and apparently black magnifies the heat, so I still think that I struggled the most.
Once inside the Mosque it was magnificent, with the world's largest carpet and second largest chandelier. It was also refreshingly air conditioned and we stopped sweating and started properly appreciating the place.
It is made of white marble inlaid with flowers made of semi precious stones, mosaics and stained glass.
The Mosque is the third largest in the world and accommodates 55,000 people, so you can guess how big the carpet must be.
Outside there is a huge courtyard with flower patterns inlaid into the marble, beyond that are reflecting ponds and then manicured grounds.
In normal circumstances I would have wandered around the gardens for ages, but unfortunately it just wasn't possible today.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Pole position

I am still going on about the Abu Dhabi grand prix track I am afraid. Today we went on a guided tour of the circuit, unfortunately without the cars.
Here I am preparing to get ready for a speedy start - just waiting for the lights to change. I burnt my fingers on the track, so my facts from yesterday must have been correct.
I had to imagine the roar of the engines and the cheers from the crowd, but the tour guide clapped politely as we filed out on to the podium to hold the trophy.
Obviously there was no champagne to spray around, and we had to hurry back inside to escape the heat.
We drove around the track at about 20 miles an hour in a minibus, and I was surprised how twisty and turny the track was.
Day posed in a model of a formula one car and it was so low that his bottom was almost touching the floor.
Ps, will find a different subject tomorrow, I promise.

Friday 12 June 2015

Formula One race track

We have managed to solve the mystery of the shape of our hotel today. Basically, it is two long thin egg shaped buildings that are at right angles to each and are joined together by a bridge - if that makes any sense. Over the top of all of it is a sort of giant concrete blanket that lights up and changes colour once it gets dark.
The most interesting thing though is that the Abu Dhabi Formula One race track winds it way all around the hotel and under the bridge.
There was no cars or bikes on it during the daytime, although that is not too surprising as the temperature on the tarmac was 58 degrees centigrade (136 Fahrenheit) in the sunshine.
Once it got dark it cooled down a little and the track sprang into life. We watched as dozens of bikers raced around the circuit.  Some were really fast and almost put their knee to the ground on the corners, and others took it much more leisurely.
We found out that every Tuesday evening they open the track to runners and cyclists, but unfortunately we are leaving on Tuesday lunchtime.
I would have loved the chance to dawdle around the track on a bike, but I am spoilt enough as it is, so I am very happy just to watch others race it instead.

Thursday 11 June 2015

Speechless in Abu Dhabi

A few weeks ago Daz found us a special offer for five nights in Abu Dhabi, and we got up early to travel there today. It is now the low season because the outside temperature is about 40 degrees and very humid, but here in the Yas Viceroy it is all air conditioned loveliness.
We have been upgraded to a suite, and as we walked in our mouths dropped open in astonishment!  Never in all of our travels have we stayed anywhere so fancy.
Our dressing room is bigger than our campervan, and I haven't really done it justice by only bringing a half full rucksack of clothes with me.
The suite is bigger than most of the houses that we used to live in, and on the way out to dinner I spotted a door that we hadn't noticed earlier, and inside it was another bathroom.
The hotel is a crazy shape, all curves and waves and when we drove up to it in the dark, it was lit up in dark blue and purple lighting.  The lights swirled on and off and constantly changed the look of the hotel so we have no idea what it will look like in the daylight.
We have a balcony that overlooks a marina, but even at 10 pm at night it's not really practical to sit out on it.
Our package included dinner, and it was the poshest buffet I have ever seen. I got carried away and had tiny pieces of almost everything, lots of which I didn't even recognise. It was all excellent but from tomorrow I will try to stick to a bit of a theme, as so many different flavours is a bit of a shock to the system.
Can't wait to explore more tomorrow.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Carmen - the opera

We had a great time in Seville last year, and particularly enjoyed a trip around the famous cigar factory. It was the inspiration for the opera called Carmen by Bizet, and we were keen to see it.
My first surprise was that although Seville is in Spain, the opera was written in French.
I found out that it was being performed in London tonight so booked tickets a couple of months ago, mainly to give us time to acquaint ourselves with the story.
Basically, Carmen was a gipsy girl who rolled cigars in the factory during the day, and broke hearts by night. She fell in love with a soldier, was responsible for him being sent to prison, then left him for a bullfighter. I won't spoil the ending but it is very dramatic.
Darren downloaded the soundtrack, and a teaching tape that explained the story and roughly what happened during each song.
We were really dedicated and listened to the music for almost all of the 38 hours that it took to drive from Spain back to England.
Two songs in particular are fantastic,
Habanera by Carmen and Toreador by the bullfighter, but we enjoyed loads of the other songs and by the time we reached Calais we could hum and screech along to most of it.
Unfortunately, we couldn't understand the singing in French, but in a great twist for us tonight, not only was it sung in English, but there was subtitles to help us too.
It was a modern interpretation so Carmen didn't seem to work at the cigar factory, the soldiers drove around in cars and the gypsies took selfies, but I suppose everything has to move with the times.
Great performance, and Darren's mum enjoyed it too.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Kimberley triathlon

We headed over to Kimberley this morning to watch the family go head to head at Kimberley triathlon.
I was ready with my camera, expecting an exciting diving start. Lined up in a row were my sister Elaine, brother in law Mark, and his brother Pete (unfortunately I zoomed in too much and missed Pete off the shot - pic 1).
Not to worry, as instead of the flying start I expected, they all climbed into the pool and started with a push off the wall.
There was a bet on as to who would be first out of the water, and Elaine was feeling confident.  She was in the lead towards the end of the first lap, but in a very unfortunate twist, she was blocked by a slower swimmer in her lane. The boys overtook her and she never got back in contention.
Pete (pic 2) exited first, Mark (pic 3) was second and Elaine followed behind. I am quite confident that Elaine then took the prize for the person taking the longest time to get dressed in the transition section, but eventually she was on her way out with her bike (pic 4).
Out on the bike course Mark overtook his brother and then shot out for a really speedy run.
Finally, we waited as everyone crossed the finish line with Mark retaining first place.  Pete was a close second, and we had to wait a while, but then a very courageous Elaine, who was by now battling a painful leg injury, came in third.
It was a great effort by everyone, and keep an eye out on this blog in a couple of weeks time, as Daz and I are also thinking of entering the next race!

Thursday 4 June 2015

Cyclists in Cambridge

We are still in Cambridge and are surrounded by thousands of bicycles. Apparently 120,000 people live in the city, of which 20,000 are students and between them they own 35,000 bikes.
We have seen most of them as they are everywhere, attached to lampposts, railings, leaning against walls and stacked up in every possible space.
The students sail around on them with their baskets full of papers and notes. They are currently taking their exams, so there are notices up all around town asking people to be quiet as they pass by.
We could only stand at the entrance to Corpus Cristi college - pic 2 - and quietly imagine the sort of life they lead.
I think that quite a few of them have just taken their final exams, as they were out on the streets later celebrating loudly with bottles of champagne.
We went to the Fitzwilliam Museum to see yet more art and it was housed in yet another grand beautiful building - pic 3.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

King's College Chapel, Cambridge

We are in Cambridge today and paid to go on a guided walking tour of the city. The guide told us so many interesting facts that my brain is exploding, and I will try to resist boring you with them here. 
However, I will say that the city is a beautiful historic maze of ancient buildings.
The most memorable was King's College Chapel and on previous visits to Cambridge we have stood and admired it from the road, but have never been inside.
The building was started by King Henry VI in 1441, but was not completed until 1515 by Henry VIII. (The war of the Roses amongst others things delayed it.)  Henry VIII then went to great lengths to ensure that it would be the most magnificent Chapel in either Oxford or Cambridge.
The stained glass windows were magnificent and are original from the 16th century.  They were all removed and hidden during World War II to save them from any damage - sorry couldn't help myself on the facts front.
We kept hearing about the excellent choir that sing at Evensong every day, so to end the day we went to the Chapel service to hear them.